Eckhart Tolle Biographical Info (Telegraph Magazine)
For the best part of two years in the early 1980s a man in his mid-30s
would sit on a park bench in Russell Square, central London, and in a
state of deep bliss watch the world go by.
When winter crept in, Eckhart Tolle, a German-born linguist who had once
been thought to hold great academic promise, would retreat into the
University of London Library nearby and pore over esoteric books. And
word spread among students that this man was no ordinary drifter but a
modern mystic who had undergone an extraordinary inner transformation.
A man, indeed, who was spiritually enlightened.
Twenty years later, Eckhart Tolle (pronounced Toll-ee) says that while
“there are shifts in intensity”, he remains in the same state of “bliss
He no longer sits on a park bench but lives in a high-rise in Vancouver
and teaches others how to attain enlightenment, among them Gillian
Anderson of The X Files; Cher, who says he “has changed my life”; and
Meg Ryan, who introduced Oprah Winfrey to Tolle’s first book, The Power
of Now: A Spiritual Guide to Enlightenment.
Last year, Winfrey chose the book for her Favourite Things show, saying
she had read it eight times and keeps it on her bedside table. Sales
skyrocketed: The Power of Now — with an original print run of 3000 —
became No. 1 on Amazon.com and spent 20 weeks on the New York Times
bestseller list, selling more than one million copies in North America.
Released in Australia in 2000, it was still on the top 10 list this
year, and has been translated into more than two dozen languages.
Tolle’s second book, Stillness Speaks, was released here earlier this
month and publisher Hodder Headline says both books are selling well.
Suddenly just the right thing happens at the right moment. Or you become
more intuitive, more creative. Many deep insights and realisations come.
When I first met Tolle — a slight man with soft, grey-blue eyes and a
goatee beard — he by no means exuded charisma. Rather, the air of a shy
professor. He spoke with a faint German accent, his conversation
frequently punctuated by staccato laughs so fierce as to make his
shoulders shake. Nothing, it seemed, was to be taken too seriously —
least of all his international success.
The essence of his teachings, he says, is that the present moment is the
most meaningful in life. By aligning with “the now”, he says, “you are
also aligned with life itself. You experience coincidences.
“Suddenly just the right thing happens at the right moment. Or you
become more intuitive, more creative. Many deep insights and
realisations come out of being present.”
Written in a question and answer format, The Power of Now explores
perennial spiritual problems: how to overcome the feeling of separation,
the meaning of surrender, how to avoid pain. It requires the reader to
let go of preconceived ideas and focus less on what he or she does and
more on being.
Tolle asks the reader “not to stop thinking, but to step out of being
completely entangled in the stream of thinking”. This, he believes, “is
the the real meaning of spirituality. People still think spirituality is
having certain belief systems — in God or angels — but ‘spiritual’ means
to be able to step beyond the conceptual reality in your head. In other
words, accessing the dimension of stillness within yourself.”
Does he consider himself enlightened? “Well, one could say that,” he
says, and pauses. “But that leads to delusion. When one says I’m
enlightened or you are enlightened, that enlightenment is a personal
achievement or possession or some kind of attainment.”
He feels his way cautiously. “There is simply a state of peace, clarity
It wasn’t always so. Brought up near Cologne in Germany as Ulrich Tolle,
he had a miserable childhood, largely because his parents constantly
argued. “Even aged 10 or 11 I was trying to figure out ways I could
Refusing to go to school, he was taught at home and learnt several
languages, as well as studying philosophy and astronomy. At 19, he moved
to London where he worked in a language school teaching businessmen.
But “suffering from depression, anxiety and fear”, he started “searching
for answers to life”. Believing these lay in philosophy and literature,
he took evening classes, and then went on to King’s College, London. He
was 27. “For a moment I thought, ‘I’ve finally made it’. And then after
a few weeks I got depressed again.”
One night shortly after his 29th birthday, Tolle says he was in a state
of suicidal despair. “I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And this
question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with
the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void. I didn’t know at
the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its
heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and
fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved.”
He pauses and reflects. “The next morning I woke up and everything was
so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense
of presence or “beingness”, just observing and watching.” He laughs
lightly. “I had no explanation for this.”
In his mid-30s he lost interest in research and abandoned academia,
drifting for two years, staying with friends or occasionally in a
Buddhist monastery, sitting on park benches and sleeping rough on
Hampstead Heath. His family thought him “irresponsible, even insane”.
It was, though, after this “lost” period that people — former Cambridge
students, those he met by chance, friends — started to ask Tolle
questions about his beliefs.
More students gravitated towards Tolle over the next five years, and he
moved to Glastonbury — the nexus of “alternative living”. In 1993, he
arrived in Vancouver. It was there that he wrote the first question in
The Power: What is enlightenment?
“I wrote an answer,” he says. “And then a stream of writing happened,
which was very empowered, very different from the casual writing I had
done before.” It was published in 1997 and has since been described as a
“seminal work with a vibrational energy”.
When talking with Tolle, I neither experienced a great sense of awe nor
had any momentous revelations. But, as I was leaving, he caught me off
guard, and hugged me. It was as though I had been squeezed by a huge
force that, nonetheless, trembled like a feather in the wind.
I walked out, and my mind fell quiet. For some reason, I could feel
tears in my eyes. Suddenly, everything on that ordinary Kensington
Street and in the cafe where I stopped to collect myself, seemed
intensely beautiful. I also have no explanation for this. Tolle is now
in the limelight. His appearance hasn’t changed much — since “the
shift”, he says, he has aged slowly — but his life has.
When I spoke to him last month, he played down the pressures: “I’m not
like some gurus who never meet anyone who is not a devotee.” But, he
adds, “I do sometimes wear sunglasses when I go out”.
Tolle is keen to emphasise his ordinariness: he says he enjoys simple
pleasures — a walk on the beach, shopping in the supermarket, sitting
He says he doesn’t pay much attention to money, although he jokes that
he “should pay more”. He has used his new-found wealth to buy a flat,
which overlooks wild parkland, and a car. He says that while he has no
intention of setting up an ashram or centre, “it could develop
organically”. Still, he has no plans to create an empire or “a heavy
Munro Magruder, assistant publisher at New World Library, the American
publisher that picked up the American rights for Tolle in 1999, says:
“The last big best-seller we had was The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
by Deepak Chopra … One of those laws is to practise detachment, but
Chopra doesn’t. He is very involved in the business.
(But) Eckhart truly practises detachment. “He’s never asked how many
copies of his book we’ve sold, nor enquired about the marketing
campaign. He couldn’t care less. He’s only interested in being a
teacher, and people resonate with that. He’s the genuine article.”
- Telegraph Magazine